Thoughts on books, family, and life in one impressive package.
Last Seen Alive by Claire Douglas

BOTTOM LINE: Not for me

Genre: Suspense; Thriller; Psychological Thriller
Publication Date: 26 June 2018
Source: Publisher via Edelweiss

Synopsis from the Publisher:

“As much as Libby Hall needs a vacation, she’s never considered taking one until she sees the note for a house swap. Suffering a miscarriage was a personal turning point. Saving a child from a burning school was a public one. Just as the emotional fallout of both incidents takes its toll, along comes her lifesavers—the Heywoods, a couple in need of a getaway of their own.

But she can’t hide…

Libby and her husband Jamie can’t believe their good fortune when they arrive at the Heywood’s isolated seaside estate with its panoramic views—and just in exchange for their drab two-bedroom apartment. How generous of the Heywoods! Yet how odd. Libby almost feels guilty until the home yields disquieting surprises: a fortune in hidden surveillance equipment, a stranger in the garden who watches them, and the make-shift operating room in the basement…

Because someone knows her secret…

When Jamie falls dangerously ill, all Libby wants is to return to their comfortably imperfect lives. But it’s already too late. Libby has just discovered the Heywoods’ biggest secret. And when it appears that even Jamie is hiding something from her, Libby’s paranoia gets the best of her. It should. For she has buried secrets of her own. As the past comes crawling out of the darkness, Libby fears she’s walked into an elaborate trap. But who has set it? What do they want of her? And what is she willing to risk to make it out alive…?”

My Thoughts: Some books are great from the very beginning, sucking you into its pages and not letting you go until the final sentence. Some books are simply terrible from the beginning; these are the ones you know are never going to improve and you quickly decide there is no need to finish them. Then there are the books like Last Seen Alive wherein there is more than enough evidence that the story and the characters are going nowhere so you decide to skim to see if it improves, and it does. These types of books are sneaky things, twisting your perceptions and making you question every book you previously opted to quit reading. They add fuel to your hope that every book that appears to be terrible will improve and make it difficult to quit reading the next book that fits into this category.

The thing is, while Last Seen Alive does significantly improve as the story progresses, and actually becomes quite impressive with its plot twists, I am still not a fan of the overall story. Yes, there are twists that came out of nowhere and blew my mind with their creativity. Yes, I did end up finishing the entire novel, and yes, I am glad I stuck with it so that I can evaluate the story in its entirety. Yet, I do not look back on the reading experience with fondness.

Unfortunately, my dislike of Libby stands in my way of completely enjoying Last Seen Alive. We spend most of the novel inside Libby’s head; plot twists aside, if you do not like what you find there, it does taint your reading experience. I am not a Libby fan. I find her whiny and weak, prone to repetitiveness and inaction. She spends most of the novel pitying herself or frozen in fear. She is also the type of character who looks for problems where none exist, in this case with her husband and their still-new marriage. Self-sabotage never sits well with me, especially when it comes to relationships, and Libby continues to pick and doubt up until the end. Had my feelings been more sympathetic towards Libby, I know my feelings about the entire novel would be different. As it is, because she is the main narrator of the novel, not liking her character prevented me from enjoying it.

I can hear you know. “But Michelle, you cannot like every main character. There are some that are simply unlikeable!” Yes, this is true. However, Libby is not one of those characters. She is, by design, the sympathetic one, the one for whom you are supposed to cheer, the one who receives the happy ending because she deserves it. She is not deliciously evil nor remotely pathological in any manner. She is the proverbial princess around whom the story revolves. I only wish she was a sociopath. At least there would then be some depth to her character. Instead, I find her insipid and uninteresting, something that does not change no matter how many secrets about her we learn.

I wish I could say that the revealed secrets and plot twists of Last Seen Alive changed my overall impression of the story, but I cannot. The fact of the matter is that even after the biggest reveal, I continued to skim the story. Skipping entire chapters appears to be the only way I was able to finish the novel. Setting aside my dislike of the main character for a moment, the other big reason I struggled with the story is its slow pacing. Skipping from chapter to chapter served to reinforce this impression because I lost nothing in the skipping. It is as if one chapter held all the action and the chapter immediately following it held nothing but exposition about or a recap of the action. At no point in time while skimming was I confused, lost, or found I had to go back to discover what I was missing. At the time, it meant that I was fervently reading because the action was all I was seeing. Looking back on it several weeks after the fact though, all I can imagine is how bored I would have been had I been reading it more slowly and reading every chapter. It should not be so easy to skip huge swaths of a novel without losing a single piece of information.

For me, Last Seen Alive is quite the mixed bag. On the one hand, I stand by my statement that the story significantly improves with a killer plot twist that makes me glad I stuck with it. On the other hand, while the plot may have improved, the main character did not, and my dislike of her was an obstacle I could not overcome when it comes to enjoying the story. This just goes to show you that no matter how much we might wish to enjoy something, wishes do not always come true.

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